Osaka is a city thriving with culture. So if you are planning a trip here, be ready to be amazed by a large mix of theaters, shopping districts, and entertainment. But that isn't all Osaka has to offer, aquariums, shrines, and theme parks add to the attractions. Read on for the top nine sights to see in Osaka from TripAdvisor:
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Dotonbori refers to the district from the Nihon bridge to the Daikoku bridge; it is a bustling downtown area that spreads along the south bank of the Dotonbori river. At the streets that are perpetually crowded by people throughout the year, you will find a great variety of restaurants, diners and shops serving okonomiyaki (savory pancake), udon noodels, deep fried pork skewers, blowfish dishes and much more! It is also “the kitchen of Osaka” where Osaka gourmet shops cluster together. For those coming to Osaka for the first time, we recommend “sign watching.” The street is crowded with colorfully illuminating neon signs, three-dimensional objects appearing to jump out in front of you and many more unique, entertaining signs. Images that best represent the Osaka Minami (south) area, and often seen in guidebooks, all collect in Dotonbori: the kuidaore (eat till you drop!) doll, the crab of Kani Douraku restaurant, the blowfish of Tsuboraya restaurant and many more. Especially, the Glico sign of the snacks manufacturer Ezaki Glico has enjoyed the most fame as the symbol of Dotonbori ever since the first version was set up in 1935. The sixth version of the Glico sign newly featuring LED neon lights was introduced in the fall of 2014. One of the popular activities when touring Osaka is to stand on the Ebisu Bridge and take a picture with this huge neon sign in the background. This bridge is also called the “pick up bridge” and used to be known as a place for picking up girls in hopes to at least have a cup of coffee together.
We also recommend focusing on the Dotonbori River itself. With the improvement in the water quality compared to the conditions in the past, the path along the river is popular today as a walking route where you can fully enjoy the water metropolis, Osaka. You can also go on a boat ride on the Dotonbori River. The Tonbori River Cruise offers a ride that cruises around the Dotonbori area for about 20 minutes. While unfortunately no English explanations are given, the guide speaking in the Osaka dialect humorously explains the history and other information of Dotonbori. Because this area has always served as the frontline of the latest trends of Kamikata (Kyoto-Osaka region) culture, there are many shops and restaurants in Dotonbori that have been favored by actors, actresses, and cultural figures over many years. This cultural aspect that is not your typical image of Osaka makes Dotonbori even more attractive.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Dotonbori
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Dotonbori
- Tours of Dotonbori
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Kaiyukan is an 8-floor aquarium with a large-scale indoor water tank. The entire building expresses itself as a Pacific Rim zone of life, and approximately 30,000 examples of sea life from 620 varieties can be seen. The regular route will first take you through the 3rd-floor tunnel-like “Fish Passage – Aqua Gate” and then on the escalator up to the 8th floor’s “Nihon no Mori” (Japan Forest). From here, you can view 14 aquaria as you descend a spiral slope. You can see the fish and expressions of the sea up close through the 10 regions of the Pacific Rim. Of particular note is the 9m-deep and 34m-long giant tank which holds 5,400 tonnes of water and resembles the Pacific Ocean. You can view migratory fish such as the popular whale shark (Yuu-chan), sharks, rays and horse mackerel swimming about calmly. The “Aleutian Islands” where you can see sea otters and the “Floating Jellyfish” tank where only jellyfish are placed are also popular. There are other various idea aquaria to interest visitors. If you visit after 5 p.m., we also recommend catching a glimpse of the fish in night mode.
You can’t miss the “New Interactive Area” which opened in 2013. You can see the animals up close and it’s possible to touch them. It’s also fun to experience the environment where the animals live including the smells and the cold. 3 zones are constructed in the “New Interactive Area”. In the Arctic Zone, you can see the sight of roundish ringed seals swimming from below through the world’s largest dome-shaped ceiling tank. You can also sense the cold of the Arctic Zone on your skin. In the Falkland Islands Zone, you can view rockhopper penguins in the open-air tank up close. Then, in the Maldives Zone, you can directly touch sharks and rays. The “New Interactive Area”, which overturns the image of existing aquaria, is extremely popular with both adults and children alike. You will want to strike a rapport with the animals.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 2,300 / Child: ¥ 1,200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Osaka Aquarium
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Osaka Aquarium
- Tours of Osaka Aquarium
Universal Studios Japan
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The idea behind Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is to experience the world of movies through attractions and shows, which were made with the director Steven Spielberg as creative manager. USJ is divided into eight areas. After the entrance is the Hollywood Area, which is a town based on the image of Hollywood film studios. The atmosphere here will make you think you’ve stepped into Hollywood in America. Then there is the New York Area, where you will find attractions from Spiderman, which is a very popular USJ movie, as well as shows based on the Terminator movie. It’s fun just to walk down the streets, which are based on New York’s image. The San Francisco Area, which is furthest away, features Back to the Future attractions. In the other main attraction, you can experience the scene of the massive fire from the movie Backdraft. As the name suggests, the Jurassic Park Area features popular attractions on the theme of the Jurassic Park movies. These powerful and thrilling attractions are always popular with adults. Amity Village features the beach from the movie Jaws. Young children will enjoy the popular Universal Wonderland, where you will find countless characters from Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Sesame Street. The whole family can enjoy the Teacups and Merry-Go-Rounds.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which displays the world of Harry Potter as it really is, is currently getting the most attention at USJ. This new area has only just opened. Hogwarts Castle and the town are just as they appear in the movies. This area is a hot topic right now as the attractions make use of 4K imaging technology.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 7,200 / Child: ¥ 4,980
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Universal Studios Japan
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Universal Studios Japan
- Tours of Universal Studios Japan
The Shinsaibashi area is inserted in the south between Minami-Senba and Nagahori Street. In its center is Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street which lines up traditional shops, department stores and specialty brand outlets. This street has a long history going back to the middle of the 18th century. From the Meiji Era, establishments such as small stores dealing in imported goods and fancy stores started increasing. During the Taisho and Showa Eras, there was a shift to dry-goods shops and department stores, and the street became a lively one for young people to enjoy shopping. Recently, seasonal events have been held to raise the profile of Shinsaibashi and the good old area has regained its luster. Traditional shops with several hundred years of history co-exist with stores dealing in the latest fashions, and a new charm is being felt.
On the west side of Shinsaibashi subway station, there is America-mura which is an area that spreads from Nagahori Street to Dotombori. It is the most active launching point in Osaka Minami for trends. Centering on the shopping building Big Step, starting from casual fashion, there are plenty of unique shops specializing in items such as old & used records, percussion instruments, and miscellaneous goods. You can feel the youth culture of the Kansai region there. In addition, you can discover “Peace on Earth”, a mural painted in 1983 by artist Seitaro Kuroda who hails from Osaka Minami. There are other original pieces of art and buildings where you can sense the pop culture everywhere. The center of America-mura is Triangle Park (Mitsu Park). It’s alive with young people performing and holding flea markets in the hopes of becoming artists or musicians.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Shinsaibashi
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Shinsaibashi
- Tours of Shinsaibashi
Although Osaka Castle has twice been destroyed by fire, Otemon and Sakuramon, which are Important Cultural Properties, still remain, as does the castle tower, which is a registered Tangible Cultural Property. The castle tower, which was rebuilt 266 years after being burned down, is a 55-meter high, five-story (outer), eight-floor (inner) building. This is one of the foremost of the many post-Showa era castle towers, and it boasts an elevator so that elderly people and disabled persons can enjoy it too. One of the features of Osaka Castle is the glittering golden ornamentation, including the golden carp on the roof. Osaka Castle is situated inside Osaka Castle Park. Osaka Castle Park is a huge site of roughly 106 square meters. In addition to Osaka Castle, this park abounds with nature, including Nishinomaru Garden, where there are approximately 300 cherry blossom trees, and the plum grove, which has approximately 1200 plum trees across 100 varieties. Concerts also take place at Osaka Castle Hall, and it is the ideal tourist location for slow walks.
The museum in Osaka Castle Tower is where you can learn about the history of Osaka Castle. On the first floor, you can study the life of Toyotomi Hidetoshi and learn about the history of Osaka Castle in the theater room. On the second floor, you will be introduced to general information about the castle by means of panel displays and replicas of the carp and the tiger and other decorations. On the third and fourth floors, items and documents related to Toyotomi Hidetoshi are on display. On floor five, there is a display that includes a folding panel about the siege of Osaka and the situation at the time, which served as a model for the current Osaka Castle, all of which is available in English. On the seventh floor, there are miniature models that tell the story of Toyotomi Hidetoshi’s life, while the top floor is a viewing area that takes in all of Osaka. After taking in the history from the first to seventh floors, and deepening your understanding of the history of Osaka Castle and the man known as Toyotomi Hidetoshi, the streets of Osaka as viewed from the viewing area will depict a different scene.
Admission: ¥ 600
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Osaka Castle
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Osaka Castle
- Tours of Osaka Castle
Nanba Grand Kagetsu
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Osaka is the hometown of laughter for men and women of all ages. Nanba Grand Kagetsu is also part of that sacred land. Let’s get fully into the world of these very individualistic artists who keep the laughter rolling!
When it comes to Osakans, they just love the banter of a conversation filled with humor. There is the boke (funny man) who does the interesting stuff and has the funny lines, and the tsukkomi (straight man) who quickly points out the mistakes and corrects them. Osakans think it’s normal to be the straight guy when you get hit with the funny and vice versa. “Yoshimoto” exists at the base of this “comic psychology” for these Osakans. Since its founding in the Meiji Era over 100 years ago, Yoshimoto Kogyo has been renowned for comedy and entertainment by turning out lots of popular artists in the Kansai and Kanto areas. Particularly with “Yoshimoto Shinkigeki” (Yoshimoto New Comedy) where comedians belonging to Yoshimoto Kogyo perform, it’s said to be the essence of Osakan comedy. The venue where that Yoshimoto Shinkigeki is performed is Nanba Grand Kagetsu.
At Yoshimoto Shinkigeki which has also been called the eyes of NGK, performances are held twice on weekdays and 3-4 times on weekends and holidays. And before the performance, there is rakugo and manzai by famous artists before the main event. The plot of the Shinkigeki takes place at an inn or store, for example. Its particular feature is a simple story in which the performers confront an unforeseen accident. Each of the Shinkigeki members show off their own individual gags on a stage rife with improvisation. For the manzai, rakugo and other comic performances, the stage changes daily.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Nanba Grand Kagetsu
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nanba Grand Kagetsu
- Tours of Nanba Grand Kagetsu
National Bunraku Theater
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Bunraku sits alongside Noh, Kyogen and Kabuki as a representative traditional form of performing art. Boasting a history of over 300 years, it is a puppetry that has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Property. From the traditional Japanese narrative music of joruri which conveys the melodic tunes and musical plot, and the accompanying string instruments of shamisen, the story unfolds. With the joruri and shamisen, human emotions are expressed through the movements of the puppets which are truly exquisite. What distinguishes bunraku from the puppetry in other nations is that while a genuine drama is played out drawing on the subtleties and nature of the human heart, the puppet operators appear grandly in front of the audience. The three-person operation of each puppet, known as sannin-zukai, is unique in the world.
The National Bunraku Theater is located close to the birthplace of bunraku, Osaka’s Dotombori district. Periodic performances occur 4 times a year. Ticket reservations begin one month before the opening day of a performance, and same-day seats are also available. The schedule can be seen on the homepage for the National Bunraku Theater. To watch the performance, please use the English earphone guide (payable). You can enjoy bunraku even without prior knowledge through the explanation in the pre-performance programme and the audio commentary during the performance in real time. Many of the performances are approximately 4 hours in length, so there is always a 30-minute intermission in the middle of a performance. Box lunches and tea are sold before the performance so it’s good to purchase them in advance. On the 1st floor, there is a restaurant, “Bunraku Charyo”, and along with meals, you can also enjoy matcha tea and Japanese confections. To use the restaurant, it’s suggested to make reservations before the performance.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about National Bunraku Theater
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about National Bunraku Theater
- Tours of National Bunraku Theater
Kids Plaza Osaka
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Kids Plaza Osaka is the first museum in Japan for “hands-on” children. There are plenty of displays for them to learn while playing and workshops where they can try out various things. In addition, there is a nursing room and a milk bar within the facilities, and for some of the washrooms, there are diaper-changing spaces and baby showers. There are also free rental baby carriages so you can bring your baby securely and enjoy yourselves. There are no restaurant facilities within the museum but there is a rest area where you can eat any lunch you have brought and enjoy a full day.
The museum has the Welcome floor (1st), the Creativity floor (3rd), the Adventure floor (4th) and the Discovery floor (5th). With 15 spots, the entire family can enjoy trying out many things. The Creativity floor is full of programs to realize the fun of making things. Things such as the computer workshops where you can produce animation, etc. on personal computers are popular. And then, on the Adventure floor, kids can play while getting a close-up on real-life experiences. They can try out various jobs such as delivering mail as employees of the post office or punching a cash register. Also going from the 4th to 5th floors, you can check out the athletic Kids Town. The town of all curves was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Climbing up the walls and going down the slide, you can play to your hearts’ content. On the Discovery floor, there are plenty of areas where kids can learn about nature, science, society and culture while having fun. There are many thrilling displays such as the Wai Wai studio where they can experience the world of broadcasting and video, and the Soap Bubble Supreme area. Please consult our homepage before coming out since the programs in every area will change depending on the day.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,200 / Child: ¥ 600
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kids Plaza Osaka
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kids Plaza Osaka
- Tours of Kids Plaza Osaka
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Sumiyoshi-taisha is the main shrine for the nation’s 2300 Sumiyoshi shrines, boasting a history of 1800 years. The honden main hall is separated into four structures with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd main shrines built in a row, and the 4th built across from the 3rd, a highly unusual configuration. Called the sumiyoshi-zukuri style, the shrine’s buildings have been declared a National Treasure, and the special form is the oldest of its type in the history of shrine architecture. The Kakutorii stone gate has the feature of being a Sumiyoshi Torii with its square pillars. The Taiko-bashi Bridge has a grand arch and its purpose is to cleanse people of their sins before they approach the gods. It is reminiscent of a rainbow as a bridge connecting the lands of Man and Gods. The Important Cultural Property of Ishibutai (stone stage) is one of the three great stages of Japan, and every May, there is a performance of court dance and music held there. There is the Onda rice paddy which measures 2000 square meters where actual rice is cultivated without any pesticides in the hopes for a huge harvest. Aside from the honden on the grounds, there are many auxiliary and subordinate shrines that are related to Sumiyoshi-taisha.
The Goshogozen is a sacred area in the shrine. When Empress Jingu had searched for land to worship the great gods of Sumiyoshi, it is said that three white egrets landed in a cedar tree and it is this place where she worshipped them. There are small stones in the stone wall there which have the kanji characters for “five”, “big” and “power” written individually on them, and when they are collected and protected, the person will be endowed with strength, knowledge, wealth, fortune and long life and will have any prayers answered. At the conferment place in the honden, exclusive cases are sold
The Hattatsu Mairi, known as an original belief, is performed for prosperity in business and safety for the family. On the first Day of the Dragon every month, there is a customary pilgrimage to each of four subordinate shrines, and at the end of every 4 years, if the pilgrimage has been performed 48 times, prayers will be answered. At one subordinate shrine, Nankun-sha, the ornaments of shofuku neko (good luck cats) are popular as they raise their right paws on even-numbered months for wealth and their left paws on odd-numbered months to invite customers.